Michigan’s Catholic colleges take varied approaches to mask, vaccine mandates

Antoine M. Garibaldi, Ph.D., center, outgoing president of the University of Detroit Mercy, welcomes students back to campus for an academic year that will feature vaccine and masking protocols as Catholic colleges in Michigan try to combat the spread of the COVID-19 delta variant. (Courtesy of Detroit Mercy Marketing and Communications)

Detroit Mercy is requiring vaccinations, while Madonna, Siena Heights and Aquinas are ‘strongly encouraging’ inoculation

DETROIT  As Michigan’s four Catholic colleges return to classes, the return of students this week marks the return of COVID-19 concerns. 

Across the four schools — including two in the Archdiocese of Detroit — administrators are taking different approaches to masking and vaccination requirements as the delta variant continues to spread throughout the state. 

In the Archdiocese of Detroit, the University of Detroit Mercy and Madonna University in Livonia have set their own coronavirus protocols, complete with indoor mask requirements, while the two out-state Catholic colleges — Siena Heights University in Adrian and Aquinas College in Grand Rapids — have done the same. 

The University of Detroit Mercy has taken the added step of mandating all students and faculty get vaccinated before coming on campus, while Madonna is using a less direct approach, hosting a “Get Vaccinated and Win!” contest to encourage more students to get vaccinated with a chance to win tuition money. 

Siena Heights and Aquinas College also aren’t mandating students get the vaccine, instead appealing to their Dominican values of caring for the community in encouraging students to get the shot. 

Detroit Mercy mandating vaccinations 

The Jesuit- and Mercy-run University of Detroit Mercy announced June 10 it would require all students, staff and faculty to be vaccinated by Aug. 16 in order to return to campus. 

“Detroit Mercy believes this decision is in the best interest of our community and is an important step toward returning to a more traditional experience of face-to-face instruction and events for students, and employees working alongside their colleagues,” the university said on it website. 

University of Detroit Mercy’s campus ministry welcomes students to campus for the 2021-22 academic year. The university is requiring all students be vaccinated this year, along with wearing masks indoors and at some outdoor events, in accordance with guidelines from the Wayne County Health Department. (Photo courtesy Detroit Mercy Marketing and Communications)

The university has a “Titans Together” COVID-19 information page that includes the number of active cases at the university and the cumulative cases the university has experienced since the pandemic began. As of Sept. 1, the school had three active case and 345 cumulative cases. Students and staff can fill out a COVID-19 referral report of anyone, be it themselves or someone they know, who is experiencing symptoms. 

On Aug. 5, the school announced all indoor activity would require the use of masks, regardless of one’s vaccination status. 

The school also has an online travel assessment form asking for a student’s name, email address, primary role at the university (residential or non-residential) along with the purpose of their travel on or off campus and their vaccination status. 

Those who are not fully vaccinated are asked to complete the form before returning to campus. While the university plans to have on-campus events throughout the year, it is asking all students, vaccinated or not, to be wary of others’ concerns. 

Fr. Gilbert Sunghera, SJ and Fr. Mark George, SJ, offer themselves as “Rent-a-Priests” to bless dorm rooms to begin the academic year at University of Detroit Mercy. (Photo courtesy Detroit Mercy Marketing and Communication Office)

Madonna organizes ‘Vax to Win!’ incentive 

While Madonna University is planning in-person classes this year, like all Wayne County schools, students and faculty will be asked to wear masks while indoors. 

Rather than mandating vaccination, however, the Felician-run school is encouraging students and staff to get the shot through a tuition-giveaway event. 

“Our plan balances respect for the individual concerns, beliefs and risks of each member of our community,” the school’s website said. “We will continue to monitor pandemic safety requirements as they evolve from the Federal Government, the State of Michigan, and county health departments, as well as the recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.” 

The school’s campus health center provides updated information about the virus in the community, and plans to coordinate vaccination clinics as needed. 

Throughout the summer, Madonna has been conducting its “Get Vaccinated and Win!” campaign, working with the White House and the U.S. Department of Education to provide weekly drawings worth $1,000 in tuition credits to vaccinated undergraduate and graduate students. 

“Cruzer the Crusader,” Madonna University’s mascot, dons a mask as he helps students move into their dorms in 2020. This year, Madonna isn’t mandating vaccines, but instead “strongly encourages” students and faculty to get the shot. (Courtesy of Madonna University)

The school has done nine drawings so far, with another scheduled for Sept. 3. 

Madonna also is asking students, faculty and staff to take preventive measures regarding personal hygiene and social distancing, including avoiding campus while sick, self-isolating when experiencing COVID symptoms and reporting any positive cases. 

Before move-in day, students were required to complete a COVID-19 test and submit a negative test result five days before moving into the residential halls. For the fall semester, only registered Madonna University students may be guests in the residence halls. 

Siena Heights and Aquinas encourage vaccinations, but won’t require them 

Sr. Peg Albert, OP, president of Siena Heights University, has a letter posted on the university’s website welcoming back all students, faculty and staff to the Adrian school and outlining its COVID-19 policies. 

“Although COVID-19 continues to influence our lives, we want to offer the safest environment that we can to our students, professors and staff,” Sr. Albert wrote. “If you haven’t already, I would encourage you, if you are able, to get vaccinated. Although Siena Heights will not mandate vaccinations on the Adrian campus for the 2021-22 academic year, we strongly encourage you do so.” 

In the university’s COVID-19 guidelines, it does note off-campus experiences such as clinical placements, experiential learning activities or programs may require vaccination. 

Those who are fully vaccinated are not required to wear a mask when indoors or outdoors, but the school is asking them to be sensitive to others’ dispositions and adhere to changing mandates from the Lenawee County Health Department. 

For those who are unvaccinated, face coverings will be required while indoors unless alone or in a room separated by six feet of distance from others, and unvaccinated students will undergo random sampling. 

Students, faculty and staff who voluntarily reveal they are fully vaccinated will not have to automatically quarantine when they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, whereas students who have not been vaccinated or have chosen not to reveal their vaccination status will be expected to quarantine if contact tracing shows they were near someone who is experiencing symptoms. 

Signs at Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C., remind students to wear their masks Aug. 30, 2021, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Catholic colleges across Michigan and the country have been updating its COVID protocols with the developing situation with the Delta variant. (CNS photo/Gabrielle Crockett, Reuters)

Students who are required to isolate will be expected to continue their academic requirements remotely. 

Meanwhile, in Grand Rapids, Aquinas College will require all people in indoor settings, including student activities, athletic activities, training and events, to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. 

Masks aren’t required for students inside their own residential facility or with members of one’s household. 

The college’s Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel, per guidelines set by the Diocese of Grand Rapids, strongly recommends visitors wear masks during Mass and gatherings at the chapel

Students are not required be vaccinated at Aquinas, but those who are will not be subject to contact tracing and or self-isolation upon coming into contact with a person who tests positive for COVID, provided they show no symptoms. 

“Our Catholic and Dominican heritage calls us to care for others, particularly the most in need,” Aquinas College President Kevin G. Quinn said on the school’s website. “We are a community of caring, so we each have individual responsibility to others on our campus. It will require the cooperation of all of us to ensure that our campus is as safe as possible.” 

As part of the college’s effort to encourage the vaccine, Aquinas has listed resources on where one could get a COVID-19 vaccine, along with a statement from the seven Catholic bishops on Michigan on the moral permissiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the moral acceptability of receiving the shots.